November 09, 2012
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Wallabies bid to stretch French winning run

Australia will bid to stretch their winning run over a youthful France side to a record-equalling six successive matches since 2008 on Saturday.

But the hosts have a particular interest in bucking that trend and claiming victory in an effort to assure themselves of a better IRB ranking for next month's 2015 World Cup draw.

History is certainly running against Les Bleus.

Five of Australia's eight wins in France have come from the last six appearances in Paris, with the 14-27 loss in 2004 the Wallabies' sole defeat in the French capital going back to 1993.

Success for the tourists on Saturday would match Australia's best winning sequence (of six) against France, which was achieved between 1993 and 2000 and included the 1999 Rugby World Cup final.

The last meeting in Paris saw the Wallabies run out crushing 59-16 victors, and nine of the match night squad named for Saturday featured in the corresponding match two years ago.

For France, coach Philippe Saint-Andre has plumped for mercurial Frederic Michalak at fly-half and a number of young, inexperienced players, saying his team was now embarking on a "new era".

"There are senior players like William Servat, Lionel Nallet, Julien Bonnaire and Sebastien Chabal who have retired," the former France captain and winger said.

"Then there are Imanol Harinordoquy, Dimitri Yachvili, Thierry Dusautoir and Aurelien Rougerie out injured.

"These are guys who were used to being on the starting sheet for eight, 10 years. We must find a new generation and it's up to this generation to assert themselves."

France managed to get to the final of last year's World Cup despite being the oldest side there, with an average age above 30.

That has come down to 26, with Saint-Andre insisting that it was "necessary to bring youth in not just for now but also to head to the next World Cup".

There is an added incentive for this year's November Tests, with victories vital in a bid to get the best possible seeding for the Rugby World Cup 2015 pool allocation draw on December 3.

The IRB world rankings will be used to rank the 12 directly qualified teams for England 2015 into three bands for that draw with the sides ranked one to four in band one - and crucially avoiding each other until the knockout stages - those five to eight in band two and the remaining four in band three.

Should the draw be made today, France would be first in band two, while Australia sit second behind the All Blacks in band one.

Crucially, a win would see fifth ranked France swap with England above them, regardless of their rivals' result against Fiji at Twickenham earlier in the day.

But for Australia coach Robbie Deans, the rankings battle was not an issue.

"It's not a focal point. We understand it's in the background, the relevance and importance of it," said Deans, making out he was unaware of the consequences be it a would be should his team win.

Deans has handed Waratahs prop Sekope Kepu and lock Kane Douglas their first starting spots after both featured from the bench in last month's drawn Bledisloe Cup Test against New Zealand that halted the All Blacks' 16-Test winning run.

Other changes from the line-up that night see Rob Simmons join the bench in place of the injured Sitaleki Timani, while Berrick Barnes returns from injury to take over from Drew Mitchell as one of two backline replacements.

"The playing group are excited and they are looking forward to the game this weekend," Deans said.

"The atmosphere at the Stade de France is always fantastic and the crowd vociferous: it's a great place to play the game, and a magnificent experience that none of the players who are fortunate enough to put on a jersey on the weekend will ever forget."

Brice Dulin; Wesley Fofana, Florian Fritz, Maxime Mermoz, Vincent Clerc; Frederik Michalak, Maxime Machenaud; Louis Picamoles, Fulgence Ouedraogo, Yannick Nyanga; Yoann Maestri, Pascal Pape (capt); Nicolas Mas, Dimitri Szarzewski, Yannick Forestier
Replacements: Benjamin Kayser, Thomas Domingo, Vincent Debaty, Jocelino Suta, Damien Chouly, Morgan Parra, Francois Trinh-Duc, Yoann Huget

Mike Harris; Adam Ashley-Cooper, Ben Tapuai, Pat McCabe, Nick Cummins; Kurtley Beale, Nick Phipps; Wycliff Palu, Michael Hooper, Dave Dennis; Nathan Sharpe (capt), Kane Douglas; Sekope Kepu, Tatafu Polota Nau, Benn Robinson
Replacements: Stephen Moore, James Slipper, Paddy Ryan, Rob Simmons, Radike Samo, Liam Gill, Brett Sheehan, Berrick Barnes

Referee: Nigel Owens (WAL)


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